California Lawmakers Renew Push For Net Neutrality

California is moving forward with a renewed effort to restore the Obama-era net neutrality protections.

This week, state lawmakers introduced an amended version of SB822, a net neutrality bill that prohibits broadband providers from throttling or blocking traffic and engaging in paid prioritization. The bill also explicitly prohibits providers from engaging in some forms of zero-rating -- which involves exempting some material from consumers' data caps.

"Our bill creating strong #NetNeutrality protections in CA (#SB822) is now officially back on track," state Senator Scott Wiener said in a Twitter post. "We’ve now amended the bill so that it contains all of the key protections for ensuring a free & open internet."

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Earlier this year, a legislative committee proposed removing some of the provisions banning zero-rating, but retreated from that stance. The current bill specifially prohibits carriers from charging companies to zero-rate their own content. It also prohibits carriers from cherry-picking which applications or content to zero-rate, but allows carriers to zero-rate material in "application-agnostic ways," provided it doesn't charge for that service.

Those provisions, taken together, would appear to allow carriers to zero-rate all video applications, but would prohibit carriers from zero-rating video streams offered by specific carriers, like Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The group CALInnovates, which lists telecom giant AT&T as a partner, is running an ad campaign against the measure, which it characterizes as an "Internet tax."

One ad, flagged by Wiener, poses the question: "Why are some politicians putting 45,000 CA jobs at risk with an internet tax?"

CALInnovates did not respond to MediaPost's request for comment about the ads.

California is one of numerous states to consider imposing their own net neutrality regulations in the wake of the FCC's December 2017 decision to repeal a set of nationwide net neutrality rules. Those regulations, like California's proposed measure, prohibited broadband carriers from blocking or throttling online traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Net neutrality advocates say rules are necessary to ensure that carriers don't discriminate against competitors and small companies that can't afford extra fees for fast-lane service. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who pressed for the repeal, says the rules were "heavy-handed" and depressed investment.

Since the repeal, governors of Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii and Vermont have signed orders requiring state agencies to contract only with providers that follow net neutrality principles.

The state of Oregon recently passed a law that similarly prohibits state agencies from contracting with broadband providers that violate net neutrality principles. Washington state passed a more comprehensive net neutrality law that prohibits broadband providers operating in the state from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.

It's not yet clear whether individual states can enact net neutrality rules. When the FCC voted to repeal the Obama-era regulations, the agency also said it was prohibiting states from crafting their own rules. But some legal experts say the FCC's attempt to block state laws may not hold up in court.

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